A year and a half ago, I was at a massive networking event for writers and filmmakers in London. It was exhilirating and overwhelming all at once, mostly because of the amount of people — and not just any people, weird creatives like me.
And there was this one guy in particular… (It could just as well have been a woman — in fact that would have been more likely and less surprising to be honest — but it wasn’t. Against all odds, it was a guy. A male person.)
He was another writer, in town just for this, for these three days. And we clicked. We talked about writing and filmmaking and creativity in general, he told me about his project and asked me about mine. We went to a lot of the same sessions, so naturally we started sitting together, leaning in to whisper something, or simply exchanging a glance and a smile of agreement. Simply put, we were connecting.
At any given time, I’m starved for connection — mental or emotional, it doesn’t matter, I’m not fussy — because most of the people I meet don’t seem to get me, their brains don’t compute the kinds of things my brain does or, if they do, not at the same speed or in the same seemingly unstructured order as mine and when I do manage to find someone I connect with, they still tire of me quite quickly, because I get too intense.
This guy seemed drawn to my intensity, could almost match it. We were in free fall together and I didn’t wanted to land.
Then of course he wanted to kiss me.
Now, this changed everything. You see, at the time, except for one near-sex-experience the previous summer, I had been celibate for nine years going on ten, and during my brief but intense period of being sexually active before that, I had nothing but bad experiences, and intentionally so: I went home with people I neither liked or fancied, then let them do stuff to me while I tried my hardest to dissociate from the situation entirely. But despite my best efforts, that numbness never did feel entirely like nothingness, more like diluted pain — like partially healed cuts — and in my mind the act of sex and the act of cutting were essentially the same, for just this reason.
Now here was this guy, this man that I could talk to, that listened to the insanity that is my creativity and liked what he heard (Not as much as he liked to talk about his own project, obviously. But that would be expecting too much.) And he wanted to kiss me. He was very adament about it. And part of me wanted to kiss him too, but something was holding me back.
I found myself (that’s a weird expression, by the way) writing about this guy, this stranger, and my feelings about this very temporary thing that was happening between us, almost like a love-sick teenager, except… Even with all sorts of warm and fluttery things going on in my body, for some reason I couldn’t put these things into words without cynical predictions or descriptive language that veered more towards pornography and zombie film references than the usual romantic tropes… And when I read back what I’d written, expecting to see these light, fluttery feelings put into words, but seeing only their shadows instead, I thought maybe I was guarding myself from intimacy, even in my own writing, to protect my heart… It made sense: this guy was leaving the country again in less than two days, so falling for him would be a direct route to heartache.
I still think maybe I was half right, and that that was part of the reason my gut feeling was telling me to keep him at bay. Part of the reason, but definitely not the main one.
As it turns out, my gut feeling is a lot smarter than me and my fragile little heart wasn’t the only thing it was protecting. But by the time I realised that, I was already backed into a corner…
I’m skipping ahead. (Sorry. I do that.)
We haven’t even kissed yet. He wants to, and part of me does too — but I’m holding back.
He’s very passionate, very persistent, very blunt.
Then, during a ridiculously prolonged good night in a tube station at fuck o’clock in the morning on day two out of three, he nestled close and kissed my hair. It was a simple thing, but me being me, that’s as intimate as it gets. So I caved. We kissed.
He wanted more.
Now even the part of me that had wanted to kiss held back, and I didn’t get why. There was still a hint of a flutter inside of me and I had enjoyed the kiss, I’d enjoyed his fingers combing through my hair and I’d especially enjoyed the feeling of connection as he looked at me like he saw right through me and told me how he felt about me.
But my gut feeling was putting the brakes on. I recognised the feeling holding me back, of course. It was fear. And at the time I genuinely thought it was fear of being intimate with another person, being vulnerable. And at the same time I didn’t want to break this connection by rejecting him, so I opened up to him and told him everything; I explained that I hadn’t been with anyone in nine years, because I’d made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to do, or be with anyone I didn’t want to be with, ever again.
His kicked puppy dog look was a punch to my stomach. And when he asked me if I didn’t want to be with him, my gut feeling said no, but my mouth said it’s not that I don’t want to be with you, I just think it would be emotionally destructive for me if the first person I sleep with after being celibate for so long leaves the country the next day and I never see them again, so no, I can’t have sex with you.
He accepted this. At first.
That night we went out drinking with a few other writers, but then one by one they all dropped off until it was just the two of us. And it was late, really late. At the time I lived quite far out on the opposite side of London, and by the time the night bus would have brought me home, it’d almost be time for me to make my way all the way back again, if I wanted to make the morning session I had my eye on. His hotel room was literally two blocks away and he offered to put me up for the night.
I was torn, and I shouldn’t have been. I should have just gone home. Instead I hesitated, allowing his continued persuasion which probably felt flattering, I don’t really remember. Regardless, I reiterated several times that I wasn’t going to have sex with him, we would just sleep. He offered me a compromise: just a kiss and a cuddle.
My gut feeling was screaming at me to just go home, but I didn’t. I went with him to his hotel. I got into bed with him. My clothes stayed on, for the most part. His didn’t. And even with my clothes on, he touched me everywhere. I was suddenly frozen. Any and all traces of attraction for this person was suddenly snuffed out, and the rougher he got with me, the less attracted to him I was, the more scared I felt. As he began pulling on my tights and underwear, a surge of self-preservation welled up in me and I tried to push him away.
He grabbed my hands and slammed them down, then kneeled on top of my shoulders so that I couldn’t move and then proceeded to shove his cock in my face. He literally poked me with it, rather forcefully. I can only assume he was aiming for my mouth, but he hit a spot between my upper lip and cheek. When I flinched away, he said, almost surprised, You don’t want it in your face?
I couldn’t get the words out, any words, so I just shook my head. I tried to sit up, to push him back and away from me, but he was too heavy. If he even noticed, he showed no sign of caring. Instead, he leaned down and bit my neck and shoulder hard enough to draw blood. By this point, my heart was pounding. Every bad thing I had ever thought or felt about myself flared up and to this day I genuinely don’t know if the reason I didn’t bite him back was that I was paralysed by fear or simply felt I deserved what was happening to me and more. Maybe a combination of both. Maybe not, because if I would have been truly paralysed, I wouldn’t have managed to twist my arm up and reach around his hip, or wrap my fingers around him. But I did. All I could think was just get him off, get him off, get him off…
I did get him off, and that got him off me.
Ironically enough, he stayed true to his word: he let me keep my clothes on and didn’t fuck me. But I still felt like I’d lost something. I still walked out of that room at dawn feeling stripped bare, nervously patting my hair down to make sure it hid the angry red bite marks on my neck, feeling uglier than ever in my cum-stained clothes and no-one but myself to direct my disgust and anger at.
This experience, along with the one that had happened the previous summer at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, when I’d briefly shared a bedroom with a fellow actor I’d started to become friends with, until he also wanted more and, similar to the writer in London, also struggled to believe me when I said no (and it was an even clearer no this time: I told him frankly that I really didn’t fancy him, a harsch truth that was met with reluctant acceptance at first — but then he proceeded to shove his fingers into me as I was trying to sleep), confirmed to me that I was right to become celibate and should remain so for my own well-being.
But living in a large city in a foreign country, far away from friends and family, occasionally making new friends whilst hypmanic and social, but losing them all again as soon as you get low, it gets very lonely. And no-one really has the time or patience to meet anyone organically in London, we need to pre-screen each other in our social apps first, to make sure we won’t be wasting our precious time… Hence, I kept the dating app on my phone — secretly hoping, but not expecting to actually meet someone — and kept dating. Mostly women, but some men as well if they seemed kind, and intelligent. I only clicked with two people — both women — enough for a second date, and even with them it didn’t progress further.
Cut to a few months later, I find myself, accidentally and brutally, falling in love for the first time in my life.
The first date started just like all the others, but quickly took an unexpected turn. There was mutual geeky excitement about Shakespeare and Harry Potter. There was listening without (much) interruption or zoning out. There were butterflies and some kind of dread. There was connection. And then there was a kiss, and my gut feeling stayed suspiciously silent the whole time. Which in itself was worrying. Especially when all those rare but familiar fluttery feelings suddenly multiplied into something that was anything but familiar, the butterflies mutated and the warmth reached some kind of hitherto unexperienced boiling point.
There was a second date. And then a third, which ended with me in this person’s flat and bedroom, I am embarassed to say (embarassed, only because it’s so boringly predictable and, unwittingly though it was, suggests I was following some americanised dating culture protocol for when women should put out and the very idea of that actually makes my skin crawl, but there we are…) and I was so nervous I was shaking.
Although, if I’m being honest with myself, nervous would be an understatement and in fact, I was partly excited and partly terrified… As I was connecting with this person, mentally and emotionally, and even as I started to respond to that connection physically in ways I’d never really experienced before, at least not to this degree, I hadn’t consciously thought of him as a man — although he undoubtedly is a man and a very handsome one at that — I hadn’t thought of him as being anything like the men in my past; or the hard-handed writer who bruised me before hugging me goodbye like it was nothing; or the serpentine actor who slithered inside my clothes when I was half-asleep.
I had thought of his arms as firm and fitting perfectly around me, not stronger than mine. I had thought of his hands as gentle when he caressed my cheek and beautiful when he gesticulated, not as temporarily unfolded fists with the potential to grab and slam and pull and hold me down. But suddenly, half-naked and shaking in his bed, I did. And I was scared.
Then something happened that has never happened to me before, with any other man I’ve ever been with: He asked me if I was okay.
I wasn’t, but I said yes anyway.
Then a second miracle: He leaned back, just enough so that he could see my face, and asked me again. This time I didn’t say anything. So he asked me if I wanted to stop, and somehow I knew that if I said yes, we would. He would. And the moment I realised that, I was okay. And I didn’t want to stop.
My gut feeling is smarter than me, and clearly sick and tired of constantly steering me away from dangerous situations and toxic people, but only being listened to seventy-or-so per cent of the time, and wanted to enlist some back-up.
Now, this person is not a Knight in Shining Armour, and it’s not up to anyone to save or fix me (except, possibly, myself.) But there is something to be said for a gently supporting partner — not to mention mutually consensual, passionate sex… Turns out, best way to achieve an orgasm is being with a person you’re actually attracted to, have a connection with and that doesn’t scare you.
I feel they should have made this clearer in Sex Ed.